Sunday, October 18, 2009

A little moment of tragedy

Reading a bit of The Power and the Glory before I head to sleep (yes, it is 5 am).  I'm not very far into it, but I was trying to finish up Chapter 4 before I went to bed.  This last scene before the next chapter came out of left field for me, in the sense that I hadn't expected it to affect me, but it completely did.  The priest, who is running away from execution/persecution, comes across a very poor village, a community of huts and people who have nothing but the clothes on their backs.  The poor priest is incredibly tired, and wants to sleep, but these people haven't seen a priest in 5 years given the outlawing of the Church, and want to say their confessions.  The old man who has offered the priest a place to stay keeps talking to the priest about saying Mass and hearing out confessions, despite the fact that the priest is weary and on the run and hungry and exhausted.  Finally, the priest sits up, and angrily agrees to hear out confession.  When the old man is done, he asks if he can get the women too:

"Oh, let them come.  Let them all come," the priest cried angrily.  "I am your servant."  He put his hand over his eyes and began to weep.  The old man opened the door: it was not completely dark under the enormous arc of starry ill-lit sky.  He went across to the women's huts and knocked.  "Come," he said.  "You must say your confessions.  It is only polite to the father."  They wailed at him that they were tired... the morning would do.  "Would you insult him?" he said.  "What do you think he has come here for?  He is a very holy father.  There he is in my hut now weeping for our sins."  He hustled them out; one by one they picked their way across the clearing towards the hut, and the old man set off down the path towards the river to take the place of the boy who watched the ford for soldiers.
--[pg. 45, The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene]

I completely did not see this quiet moment of tragedy coming.  It is so sad, this poor priest who is bone-tired, bitter at his lot, and yet still rises to do his duties; this community of people so desperate to see a priest.  All these tired tired people, crashing into each other, despairing, and trying to hold on to something... The moment is so nuanced yet complex, and it leaves me wondering how I can ever create something like that in my own writing.

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